Yesterday was the annual conference of the Association of Charitable Foundations, an umbrella organisation that represents trusts and foundations in the UK. The aim of the event is to look at how trusts and foundations operate, how we can learn from one another and what we can do to ensure that we are more effective and, hopefully, more transparent and accountable. Here – in no particular order – are the top takeaways from the day:

  1. Money matters, but it’s not enough: Funders are uniquely placed to be able to work with and connect to a diverse range of partners from the private, public and third sectors. Access to networks and contacts is (or should be) a crucial element of the work of foundations, yet often a funding relationship begins and ends with an approval letter and a bank transfer. This old model of doing business, however, is fundamentally unsuited to organisations working in a networked age. If funders are serious about making an impact, then they need to think about more than just money.
  2. Making participation meaningful:Many funders work with specific local communities, although often their decision-making is done with little or no input from those communities or others. Some foundations are beginning to move beyond this to listen to voices outside their own organisations. Existing grantees, for example, often have a wealth of knowledge and experience that can be harnessed to help trusts and foundations make more intelligent, more informed decisions. External experts, meanwhile, often know what approaches work and which ones don’t. And local communities have a good sense of what their community is missing and what might help it overcome a particular problem. If funders can work to harness these pockets of knowledge and experience, they may find the projects they fund are more effective and have more of an impact.
  3. Clarity is king: Fundraisers, community groups and NGOs are in a constant battle for funding and often have only very limited resources to dedicate to it. Finding the right funders for a particular project can often be difficult and is made all the more tricky by vaguely worded guidelines and patchy information from foundations. Being clear about what you do and don’t fund and the sorts of things you have previously funded is critically important. That’s why I’ll be adding a series of posts to the website over the next few months about the sorts of things we don’t fund.